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Coronavirus / What could life beyond level zero look like?

Will there be confidence in the community in attending large events in the future? Crowds enjoying the party atmosphere at the Holmsgarth stage during the 2011 Tall Ships visit.Photo: Billy Fox

LAST week first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that if the Covid vaccination programme progresses as hoped the main legal coronavirus restrictions could be removed in early August.

This is despite case numbers in Scotland rising recently at a fast rate – more than 2,600 positive tests were included in yesterday’s (Sunday) government update. The daily figure stood at less than 1,000 a fortnight before.

But the government says there is a lower proportion of cases now resulting in hospitalisation as more people are vaccinated, and there is evidence that those who do require hospital care are, on average, discharged more quickly.

This is allowing the government to say it can now “manage the virus in a less restrictive way and focus more on risk and personal judgement”.

So what could life beyond level zero look like from 9 August onwards, if all goes to plan?

The government said the requirement to physically distance would be no longer required.

This will be welcome news for many, including businesses which have been hampered by distancing and capacity limits.

In theory after that date life should be able to return to a greater degree of normality, with events being held again, hospitality venues becoming more sociable and nightclubs reopening.

But there will be some anxiety among parts of the population who may not feel ready to return to these types of shoulder-to-shoulder scenarios yet – particularly after the emergence of the Delta variant.

The government has warned that “even at the point when restrictions are eased, the virus will still be with us and we will all require to play our part in managing it”.

“This means that as we move away from prescriptive rules and guidance to decisions based on personal judgement, it will be important for us all to consider whether and how interactions with others can be made safer,” it said.

“For as long as the epidemic is with us the need for us to consider physical distancing will remain. And it remains possible that a resurgence in the virus may require us to reintroduce certain protective measures.

“This will be kept under review to ensure we can provide appropriate guidance to employers and premises.”

Shetland Arts chief executive Graeme Howell cautiously welcomed the news.

The organisation’s arts venue Mareel has begun hosting socially distanced sit down lunchtime concerts, but larger capacity events could be in the pipeline if the main coronavirus rules are removed.

But it remains to be seen if any protective measures will remain in place, or be modified, for non-distanced indoor events.

“As always we are waiting for the sector specific guidance to be published and we will see what other restrictions remain in place, but it is good news that we are heading towards the end of physical distancing,” Howell said.

Living Lerwick manager Emma Miller, meanwhile, said she is hopeful of seeing remaining restrictions lifted – “but it is still only a possibility if certain conditions are met at this stage, so the cautious side of me isn’t getting too excited yet that we will have a full return to normality”.

“For hospitality businesses in particular this will be a significant milestone and one that I do hope we can reach while we are still in the summer season,” she said.

“I think once we get to that point it gives more confidence that we can start to look forward to events again – possibly even the return of the town centre Christmas parade.

“Fingers crossed that people remain cautious to prevent spread of the virus in the meantime and that we can all enjoy a return to the face to face interactions that we’ve missed when the time is right.”

Outside of distancing, the government says it expects people to still adhere to some baseline measures even after the move beyond level zero.

These include: –

  • Good hand hygiene and surface cleaning;
  • Continued promotion of good ventilation;
  • Requirement for face coverings in certain settings (e.g. public transport, retail);
  • Continued compliance with Test and Protect, including self-isolation when necessary.

The government also said it will work with businesses to support a phased return to office working from level zero onwards.

Prior to so-called ‘freedom day’ on 9 August, which is dependent on the vaccine programme having already moved to people aged over 40, the government plans to accelerate the easing of distancing rules if progress continues.

The distancing requirement will be removed for socialising outdoors on 19 July, and indoors it will drop from two metres to one metre.

On this date any number of people will also be able to meet in informal social gatherings outside. At the moment in level zero the cap is 15 people from as many households.

Also from 19 July different households will be able to share a bedroom in tourist accommodation.